People’s Parliament, Left Unity, and Peter Taaffe:

Peter Taaffe

Peter Taaffe

What is the significance of the People’s Parliament, Left Unity and the three political pillars of TUSC?

The ISN have both feet firmly implanted in the Left Unity camp. Their relationship with the rest of  TUSC is, I regret to say, starting to look increasingly precarious. TUSC needs to discuss this.

The SWP have also, I am pleased to say, agreed to support the Left Unity appeal of Ken Loach but without betraying their allegiance to TUSC.

The Socialist Party seem ultra-suspicious of the new initiative. I share many of their anxieties, but not their tactical approach. At any rate, what I take to be their tactics because the latter have not been spelt out in sufficiently concrete terms for me to make an unambiguous judgement. I suspect this fudge is due to differences of opinion within the SP leadership, possibly reflecting a variety of opinions within their rank and file.

Before the SP could enter into negotiations with Left Unity, there will have to be clarity as to what it means for them, how Left Unity would be likely to develop in the absence of any intervention from themselves, or the rest of TUSC (who are going to participate in negotiations regardless of what the SP wants), and what, if anything, can be encouraged by this initiative.

What is unfolding before our eyes has both positive and negative aspects. The Socialist Party have to disentangle the good from the bad and the downright ugly. The Socialist Party has to ask itself if the emergence of this new potential split in the left vote is, at least in part, a consequence of a mistaken attitude to organising sections of the left (or, to be more precise, not organising them) who have lost faith in the ability of anyone to stop Ed Miliband marching his troops ever further into right-wing territory while lacking the ability or willingness to join either the SWP, the SP or the RMT.

Far too many socialists belong to that group of socialists who can’t join TUSC but who want a political alternative to Labour. This is a problem posed to TUSC by Left Unity, and it will not evaporate unless and until TUSC embraces a membership component. What is so wrong about that anyway?Didn’t the Socialist Party’s former incarnation blossom to around ten thousand supporters by organising within Labour’s membership?

The ISN have all but abandoned TUSC, as far as I can see. The refusal to allow non-SWP, SP and RMT members to participate in the democratic structures of TUSC has forced them to look elsewhere and they have been drawn into Left Unity’s orbit. This threatens to fragment TUSC beyond repair, especially as SWP comrades know that the new project will be able to use the depressingly low vote for TUSC and, additionally, the large numbers of signatories of Ken Loach’s petition to set up an electoral alternative.

The ISN may have felt so alienated by TUSC’s refusal to grant non-SWP, SP and RMT members democratic rights that they may already see themselves as using what rights they do have as TUSC affiliates to help them damage it on the way out. I believe some of them already want that.

On the ISN’s blog we see contributions dissing the idea of democratic centralist organisations working within broad workers parties, which effectively is an insult to both the SWP and SP. I see precious little challenge to this Kinnockite Tendency within the ranks of ISN comrades. My own attempts to explain what is wrong with this approach don’t make it past the ISN’s censors anymore.

Furthermore, I see precious little debate about anything within the ISN these days, and that is extremely significant. Why are ISN comrades so afraid of debating the pros and cons of what they are arguing? Are they debating their attitude towards democratic centralism with anyone in cyberspace? If so, where are these threads, comrades? Can someone point me to the debate?

There may be legitimate criticisms of some ‘democratic centralist’ organisations not washing all their dirty linen in public. I personally believe that there are. Having said that, the reality is that all organisations without exception (left, right, center and those totally apolitical) set limits on public debate. And what exactly is wrong with that anyway? All the critics of the SWP have internal meetings and would conduct leak inquiries if confidentiality was flouted. Richard Seymour, Chris Bambery and Andy Newman are being utterly disingenuous shits when they pretend otherwise.

Peter Taaffe and the rest of the SP have to appreciate that, in the absence of a constructive relationship with that section of the left that is chomping at the bit to pose an electoral alternative to Ed Miliband because they have zero faith in the likes of John McDonnell and Owen Jones changing things internally, while nevertheless having no interest in joining (or would not be allowed to join) either the SWP, SP or RMT, the already poor vote of TUSC will decline still further. Addressing this problem should not be beyond the wit of TUSC. The concerns of such comrades have to be addressed, and welcoming the numbers of those organised by Ken Loach’s appeal will help win the ears of these socialists. These people have to be organised by TUSC, including socialists like Ken Loach himself, and Mark Serwotka.

Left Unity may not have a long term future. I personally see splits as inevitable. However, it will almost certainly hang around sufficiently long to damage TUSC. That is equally inevitable unless sophisticated strategy and tactics are deployed to make the best of a bad situation. Indeed, Peter Taaffe and co should realise that, as is normally the case, this crisis presents us with a wonderful opportunity.

Many members of Left Unity and the Independent Socialist Network seem positively proud of their individualism, their lack of centralism, which is a very odd attitude for a socialist to adopt. What this means (let’s be frank) is a total lack of authority and organisational infrastructure essential to get the job done. Furthermore, it also means that no one is accountable for anything since everyone at every point in time has an open mind about absolutely everything.

It means that whereas the SP and SWP can intervene and mobilise significant numbers on an ad hoc basis, in response to the needs of the class struggle, those indifferent to centralist methods flounder. The latter are reduced to the part of flotsam and jetsam blown hither and thither by the winds, ending up swept back into the orbit of the very same centralist organisations they have been trying to get away from, sectarian language having to be put back into its box for the needs of indispensable working class unity. The individualists only other option is to embrace witch hunts based on no evidence whatsoever, utterly alienating the rank and file of the trade union movement.

Today’s witch hunters are hoping to use Left Unity to smash the SWP and SP. They hope to use it to destroy TUSC. They are now part of a witch hunting Kinnockite Tendency within the workers’ movement. Their so-called networks will divide over tactics, finding themselves pulled in every directions because they have not taken the time to pin down their attitude towards very much indeed beyond trying to destroy any organised pole of attraction within the working class to genuinely anti-capitalist politics. These so-called socialists want to defend capitalism. They do not want any challenge to it in the electoral arena. In the absence of Left Unity, they would back Labour, the SNP, the Green Party. That means their commitment to fighting massive cuts in the public sector essential for restoring the profitability of British capitalism is suspect. In reality it is skin-deep. And that brings us to the People’s Parliament.

I agree with Peter Taaffe’s suspicions about the People’s Parliament. This parliament seems to have no interest in enfranchising our class, posing any kind of class alternative to the system of profits. There will be no elections from the trade unions nor anyone else. It is a self-appointed group of those who back electoral organisations each utterly committed to the capitalist system. However, in the absence of anything else, it is going to attract many who are looking for a class perspective to the cuts. Why should the Socialist Party not be there to make that case, and challenge the pro-capitalist drivel of others?

Trotsky called for a sophisticated perspective by his supporters to the working class component of popular fronts, attempting to drive a wedge between them along class lines. This is precisely the strategy and tactics that I recommend for the Socialist Party (and the SWP) vis-a-vis the People’s Parliament. Expose the pro-capitalist elements drawn to this project. Do we want a united front with the likes of John McDonnell, Owen Jones, Tony Benn? Of course we do. Any ambiguity on that is sectarian and plays into the hands of our enemies. The same applies to many of the leaders of the Green Party. And even to some SNP MSPs. However, there is a difference between united fronts and electoral pacts. John Rees and Lindsey German are getting this wrong with the People’s Parliament in precisely the same way they did when it came to George Galloway and those Muslims organizing against Islamophobia.

To the extent that any MP, MSP, MEP, councillor etc refuses to support mass civil disobedience and illegal strike action to resist a ruling class offensive against our class, precisely to that extent all the healthy elements drawn to Left Unity has to work with TUSC to split the People’s Parliament.

TUSC and Left Unity might want to take up a similar approach to that used by Lenin and the Bolsheviks to the Provisional government between April and October 1917: Down with the capitalist ministers. Drive the pro-capitalist elements out of the People’s Parliament. And, simultaneously, drive the supporters of Eduard Bernstein and Neil Kinnock out of Left Unity. What will be left in each case will remain a centrist organisation. But that is okay. Democratic centralists can function perfectly well within such broad organisations. And if we are subject to witch hunts by the likes of Chris Bambery and Richard Seymour, they can be exposed for the nasty opponents of class unity that they are.

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